Stories and hiking. For me, these two go together like bread and jam. Movies and popcorn. Swimming and summer. Maybe this isn’t so shocking, but I was an imaginative kid–sometimes annoyingly so–and if there was an opportunity for me to be creative with worlds and words and wonder, I took it. (I believe this explains all the “handmade illustrations” I keep finding in my childhood books, now being discovered by Little e.)
When my sister and I were kids, our family spent a lot of time in the wilderness. There was plenty of hiking, backpacking, camping, skinny dipping and occasional human-mud-pie making. It was wonderful and dirty…and sometimes monotonous, especially when lunch was a kilometre down the trail and the snacks had run out. There was sometimes whining.
I can’t claim to be the originator of the story-as-carrot hiking motivator. My mother was the one who told us the fairies were just around the corner and the bunnies and owls were listening to us as we walked. She went on ahead and planted collections of pinecones that had been “left for us” by friendly sprites and turned twisted tree trunks into horses and camels to be ridden. We played memory games and fantasized about where in the world we’d like to travel. We played the lottery game, where everyone won a million dollars and explained how they’d spend it. We imagined and wondered and plotted and as we did, we hiked, and soon enough–maybe too soon–we were there.
A few weekends ago we took Little e and The Tiger backpacking for the first time. It was the first time we’d slept in a tent all four of us, and it was not the smoothest night. (Starting the morning at 3 am because the two-year-old decides it’s light enough and insists, “Daddy coffee?” was not in the plans.) But there was a full-circle moment for me that I’ll never forget, one I’ve been waiting for since the kids were born.
Little e and my mother (who was along for the trip and, bless her, laughed during the 3 am wakeup) walked hand in hand along the boardwalks, pausing to ask the troll living under each one if they required a gift or bribe of some sort. Sometimes it was a leaf, other times a rock. Once it was a cashew, carefully dropped between the wooden slats. Every boardwalk had a troll, and every stretch of trail between them was hiked diligently, guesses about the disposition of the next troll keeping the pace and the conversation brisk. Some trolls were grumpy, some well-mannered. Some were asleep. All were a delight to Little e and The Tiger, who marched the whole way to our campsite without a complaint. (Thank you, Granny. Thank you a million pinecones.)
The truth is, it wasn’t very far–a few kilometres–and it wasn’t steep or difficult. The success for me was the melding of narrative with nature and exercise. Reminding myself how easy it is to get sucked into magical play, even as a grown-up. Showing my kids that being in the wild can be creative on top of all the other wonderful things it is.
How do you spend your time outdoors with kids?
[PS-I know there are no photos with Little e here, but she was there. Promise.]